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Image Search & Stock Photography

Episode Overview: At first glance many SEO beginners would think stock photography choices play a large part in SEO strategies. They generally don’t except for a few aspects such as contextual use. Yet developing trends from Google indicate stock photography will actually be evaluated for ranking quite soon. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ SEO Strategist and Advisor Jordan Koene about recent SEO news regarding stock photography and whether using stock images can actually affect your SEO ranking.


  • Using stock images doesn’t outright impact your SEO ranking, but developments from Google indicate they’re shifting toward verifying stock images for rankability.
  • Google recently announced they’re implementing contextual fact checking for image results to identify and flag misleading and manipulated images, penalizing sites for using them in the process.
  • Ultimately Google aims to ensure that individuals who are image creators and leveraging image content in its purest form will receive the biggest benefit and rise in ranking.
  • Preparing ahead of time for these developments requires utilizing excellent image assets and investing in image search strategies if you heavily rely on visual elements in your branding, product descriptions, etc.


Ben:                 Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re going to be talking about Image Search. Joining us is Jordan Koene, who is an SEO strategist and an advisor for Searchmetrics. Okay. Onto the show, here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:          Hey Ben, glad to be back.

Ben:                 Jordan, always a pleasure to talk to you. But I got to tell you, I’m going on a date day with my wife. I’m going wine tasting tomorrow. This is the last conversation I’m going to have before the first day off I’ve had in like six months since we’ve had our second baby. So if you could just tell us about Image Search and Stock Photography and what’s new. I’m just going to leave the mic on and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Jordan:          I mean, this is going to be one… Ben, Ben, Ben, are you there?

Ben:                 Yes. Yes, I’m still here.

Jordan:          Alright. Good. Cause we’ve got a lot of fun image search things to talk about.

Ben:                 Jordan.

Jordan:          Yes.

Ben:                Let’s get to it.

Jordan:          Let’s get to it.

Ben:                 There’s a big announcement or at least a big tweet. I’m going to read it to you. And then I’m going to go wine tasting. Let’s see, I’m reading an article from Search Engine Journal and it says, “In a recent tweet someone asked Google’s John Mueller if using stock images affects rankings. The person related to that friend has the opinion that using non-original content such as stock photography can indeed affect rankings.” And Mueller answered, “It doesn’t matter for web-search directly.” So I can copy images. I could use stock photography and it’s not going to impact my search rankings. That seems very strange to me. Let me get your thoughts.

Jordan:           Yeah. So I think we may be splitting hairs here. Right. But the reality is that John’s probably taking a very direct approach to answering this question. And it’s a very literal form of answering the question, right. Which is, are you even able to rank with or without stock photography? Yeah, of course. Could your page rank with stock photography? Yes. Is Google like inherently probably diminishing your ranking results because you chose to use stock photography? No. But we all know that there’s more behind that question. And the reality is that there’s far more implications for using stock photography.

Ben:                 So Mueller had another comment when he was asked about … Well, let me just read it to you. “Stock photography is non-original content. But if Google took off marks for the use of those, half the Internet would never work.” And Mueller answered, “For image search, if it’s the same image used in many places, it’ll be harder. There’s also a potential impact on users, after search happens. It does affect conversions if your team photo is obviously stock photography.” So does stock photography affect my search results or not?

Jordan:          Yes it does. And I think it’s because of what John said in his second statement which is, what is the impact to users? How does a user ultimately benefit or gain from having the exact same image repeated a hundred times in image search? Which is his comment around image search and image search rankings, which would be far more difficult for you to be able to rank for stock photography in image search. And then the second piece is like, what is the ultimate user benefit? Is that image genuinely creating some sort of interest or engagement that the user would expect or want to really generate those user metrics that Google looks at? Like the connectedness in terms of like time on site and engagement metrics.

Ben:                 I think at the crux of this, there’s a conversion rate question and then there’s an original content question. I think what John is saying is that, from a duplicate content perspective using stock photography does not hurt you. But if you have stock photography and it hurts your conversion rate, then we’re not going to rank your site very high because we know people are not getting the end result that they want. Am I thinking about this the right way?

Jordan:           You’re absolutely thinking about it the right way. And I think that Google is upping the game here, right? Which is, “You know what? You can certainly use stock photography, it’s not going to hurt you. But there are certain expectations that we have and we want for our users to experience.” And they’re getting to a place where their sophistication is incredibly high. You know just two weeks ago, Google announced that they’re adding the contextual fact checking for image search results. And I think this is another important note, which is that Google is also verifying, is this really a misleading or a manipulated image that is not factual, right? And there’s been tons of these like misleading images in ways that people have manipulated image and image experiences. And Google is even getting to that level of being able to designate images as being fact check for their legitimacy.

Ben:                  My favorite is during the flood in Houston, there was an image that went around everywhere of a shark swimming across a freeway in Houston. And it was totally photoshopped. Totally bogus.

Jordan:           Exactly. So I mean that in of itself is kind of, I think where the answer is, is that like Google wants good high quality unique images. Just like they do with content.

Ben:                  So Jordan talk to me about image theft. To me, it seems like there’s a couple different concerns here. And the reason why people use stock photography is original photography is really expensive or it can be. It’s hard to produce great images. So people buy stock photography that are good to great images, but they’re used multiple times. Then some people just go on to Pinterest and rip off images and copy other people’s content. Talk to me about the spectrum and what actually helps and what can hurt you.

Jordan:           Yeah. So, ultimately there’s … As John is trying to elude here, there’s no harm in using the stock photography. I think it’s more around the expectations that you should have as an author and what it is that you’re publishing. And I think that ultimately what matters most is how will this particular image impact the user experience of the page and the content that it’s supporting. And Google is looking to ensure that the individuals who are image creators and leveraging image content at its purest form, are generating the biggest benefit. And image search is no channel to put your nose to. I mean, it is a growing and significant channel of traffic and it is something that many big sites, as well as unique image creators are heavily invested in to generate traffic.

Ben:                 So tell me more about what you think is going to grow in image search.

Jordan:           Yeah. So it’s a fascinating category, right? What we do notice is that there are great statistics out there about even transactional channels like shopping, where 85% of consumers who buy clothing or furniture will use image search to make their decision, right? So whether that image search takes place on Google or other channels like Pinterest, it’s still an image search based experience and is influencing that shopping decision. We also see that the growth around image and visual searches has grown exponentially over the past years and has become one of the leading channels of growth for Google. So I really think that image search is an area where both transactional, informative as well as creatives can all participate in generating traffic and awareness for their business.

Ben:                  Last question I have for you. I thought Google was all in on this voice search thing and that we were going to get rid of laptops. And we were just going to start talking to our wristwatches, and images were going to go the way of the Dodo bird. What’s more important, focusing on image search, or voice search over the long haul?

Jordan:           Great question, Ben.

Ben:                  I am an SEO now.

Jordan:           I was really hoping that you’d be a whole bottle of wine in before you ask this question,

Ben:                 Oh, I’m reading this from the internet. This is actually a bot speaking at this point.

Jordan:           Well, it’s a great question. And fundamentally the best way I can answer it, is by saying that it depends on your business and your priorities. If you have great image assets and have invested heavily on being relevant for images, then you should ensure that your image search strategy is second to none. If you have a text based experience with great assets that can be easily voice dictated, then you’d probably have a strong and bright future in voice search. But those are easy things to say and much more challenging things to implement.

Ben:                   If I’m not buying it for a second. Image search is more important for right now, voice search is small and growing. Image search is much more impactful to your business. Everybody time to pop the corks, let’s go wine tasting. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. If you’d like to get in touch with Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, his handle is J-T-K-O-E-N-E. Or you could visit his personal website, which is Just one more link on our show notes, I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to We have summaries of our episodes, contact information for our guests.

Ben:                   You can send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions. You can apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter. And my personal handle is B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. Alright, that’s it for today. Happy wine tasting to me and my wife. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.

Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene

Previously the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc, Jordan Koene is an Advisor to Searchmetrics, supporting the thought leadership and innovation. Prior to working at Searchmetrics he was the Head of SEO and Content Development at eBay where he led the development of content and technical improvements for the organization. He is an expert in SEO with over 20 year’ experience in the field.

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